Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jacob Ruppert: The Man Who Made the Yankees

Name: Jacob Ruppert Jr. (no middle name)
Date of Birth: August 5, 1867
Place of Birth: New York, New York (Manhattan) 
Grew Up In: Same
Nationality: German, spoke fluent English but with a German accent all his life
Position: Team Owner
Batted: Not applicable
Threw: Not applicable
Nickname(s): Jake, The Colonel

Family: Father Jacob Sr. founded the Ruppert brewery, and lived long enough to see his son buy the Yankees. Mother Anna lived long enough to see them with their 1st World Series. Never married. No known children.

Before He Was a Yankee: Graduated from Columbia University, as would Lou Gehrig. Served in the New York National Guard, although his eventual promotion to the rank of Colonel, while official (contrary to some sources), may have been because he was a friend of then-Governor David B. Hill. Due to his connections to Hill and his successor, Roswell P. Flower, was elected to Congress in 1898, as a Democrat defeating an incumbent Republican. Served 4 terms before deciding not to run for re-election in 1906.

Worked as an executive in his father's brewery, eventually taking charge and making it more profitable than his father ever did -- setting a template that shipbuilding executive George Steinbrenner may not have been aware of. Was President of the United States Brewers Association for 3 years. Also heavily invested in Florida real estate, as would his future manager, Miller Huggins. It was through Ruppert's holdings that St. Petersburg became the Yankees' longtime spring training home.

He was always a baseball fan. On several occasions, he offered to buy the New York Giants, but was always turned down. It wasn't personal: The Brush/Stoneham family simply wasn't interested in selling, at any price. In 1912, he was offered the chance to buy the Chicago Cubs, but decided Chicago was too far away. 

Acquired Yankees: Bought the Yankees as an equal owner with Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston in 1915. The price was $480,000 -- in 2015 money, about $11.2 million.

This appears to have been the photograph
upon which his Plaque was modeled.

"Til" Huston (and that's pronounced HEW-stin like the Texas city, not HUSS-tin) was an Army engineer, having risen to the rank of Captain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, and was nicknamed "Cap" for the rest of his life, even after he was promoted to Colonel in World War I -- a much more legitimate rank than Rupperts. From 1918 to 1923, they were known as "The Colonels."

They were truly the Odd Couple of baseball: Ruppert was a man of inherited wealth, came by his rank dubiously, was emotionally reserved, made sure he was always impeccably dressed, and would speak to the press, albeit in Jeteresque platitudes; Huston was a self-made man, earned his rank, wore his heart on his sleeve, was a sloppy dresser, and didn't talk to the press.

The Ruppert-Huston regime's first game as Yankee owners was on April 14, 1915, at Griffith Stadium in Washington, with President Woodrow Wilson throwing out the first ball. Walter Johnson pitched a shutout, and Jack Warhop couldn't stop the Washington Senators, who won 7-0.

After feuding for most of the time since Huston came home from WWI, particularly over the hiring and then managing of Miller Huggins (Huston wanted someone else), Ruppert bought Huston out in 1922, for $1.5 million -- meaning that, in just 7 years, the value of the team had gone from less than half a million dollars to three million. The last function he attended as an official Yankees part-owner was the Stadium opener in 1923, since his engineering skill had much to do with the actual building, although it was Ruppert's moolah that funded it. When he died in 1938, no current member of the team had ever even met him.

Til Huston at the Yankee Stadium opener,
April 18, 1923.

Uniform Number(s) as a Yankee: None.

Yankee Achievements Include: Built the first Yankee Dynasty. Built the first Yankee Stadium. Made baseball a bigger business than ever. Won American League Pennants in 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, 1938. That's 10. His moves ultimately would add Pennants in 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1947, before a new regime's moves could be credited. Won World Series in 1923, 1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937 and 1938. That's 7. Since all were won after he bought Huston out in 1922, this made him the most successful sole owner in baseball history -- until matched by George Steinbrenner in 2009.

Something you should know about him, if you don’t already: The story about him designing the Yankee uniforms with Pinstripes to make Babe Ruth look thinner is bogus. The Yankees first put pinstripes on their uniforms in 1912, before Ruppert bought the team, and before Ruth ever played pro ball. Besides, for most of the first half of his career, Ruth was actually in pretty good shape, so the "slimming pinstripes" were unnecessary.

Left Yankees: By dying. His last game as Yankee owner was on October 9, 1938, at Yankee Stadium, Game 4 of the World Series, the Yankees beating the Chicago Cubs 8-3 and completing a sweep.

After He Was a Yankee: Not applicable.

Died: January 13, 1939, at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, from the effects of phlebitis, at age 71. Buried in Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, Westchester County, New York -- the same cemetery as Lou Gehrig, and adjacent to the cemetery where Ruth is buried. When he died, his estate was worth about $6.4 million, despite having gone through the entire 14 years of Prohibition as a brewer -- about $110 million in today's money.

His estate, controlled by his brother George, now controlled the team, but George didn't want anything to do with it. He let team president and general manager Ed Barrow make all decisions, until George sold the team to the triumverate of Dan Topping, Del Webb and Larry MacPhail in 1945. The brewery, a victim of the phenomenal post-World War II growth of Budweiser, sold its assets to Rheingold, and went out of business in 1965. Ruppert Towers, a housing project, is now on the site.

Plaque Dedicated: April 19, 1940, an Opening Day. It refers to "this imposing edifice," meaning the original Yankee Stadium. The Colonel, of course, had nothing to do with the new one.

Baseball Hall of Fame: Elected by the Pre-Integration Era Committee in 2012, decades after he should have been, as the most influential team owner of the 20th Century.

Other Honors: The street on the 3rd base side of the old Stadium, separating it from the players', officials' and media's parking, and connecting 157th and 161st Streets, was named Ruppert Place. It was eliminated and replaced with a walkway in the building of the new Stadium. The site of the Ruppert Brewery, at 90th Street and 3rd Avenue, is now occupied by the Ruppert Yorkville Towers. The old Newark Bears ballpark was named Ruppert Stadium, and the new Bears (now on hiatus -- hopefully not fully defunct) named their mascot Ruppert. Kansas City's Municipal Stadium was also, for a time, named Ruppert Stadium.

Depictions: Played by Matt Briggs in the 1948 theatrical release The Babe Ruth Story, Donald Moffatt in the 1991 TV-movie Babe Ruth, and Bernard Kates in the 1992 theatrical release The Babe. He does not appear as a character in either of the movies about Lou Gehrig.

Quote of Note: "My idea of a perfect day? It's when the Yankees score eight runs in the first inning, and then slowly pull away."

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